Language Barriers and Their Implications


May, 2020

A Cyber Security Perspective

Language barriers are a common struggle across industries and countries, and can have different meanings depending on where you are. Initially when we talk about a language barrier, we imagine the tourist situation. There are also technical language barriers, for example between different business departments with different goals. People from cyber security will talk about technical operations and cyber defence, and that can be their sole focus. People from the finance department speak the language of revenues and expenses. There is a plethora of information on the importance of overcoming these internal operational “language barriers”. 

As our increasingly interconnected and globalised lives bring us all closer together, we often face the age-old problem of language barriers in cyber security, particularly across APAC.

Over the last few years there have been some notable cyber incidents with global ramifications. The speed at which cyber attacks can spread and cause significant disruption and cost can leave system administrators scrambling to obtain information and threat intelligence that requires translation. The demand for such translations has surged, showing the need for information sharing during and after cyber incidents.

Increased requirements in any one individual language can also be linked to national cyber incidents. In Japan in 2016, cyber attacks on Japanese companies caused 12.6 million breaches, compared to 2.07 million in 2015, where over 600 networks in Japan were hit by the notorious WannaCry ransomware attack.

There is a notable reaction to high profile cyber incidents where non-native English-speaking countries are demanding translations. This also highlights how there could be an increased level of risk posed due to the delay of vital cyber intelligence. While some of the major multinational corporations may feel relatively isolated from such risk, the smaller companies and local infrastructure providers may be your Achilles-heel. It’s all well and good if your corporation has a global cyber security response and can quickly mitigate threats; but what about the country’s infrastructure that your business relies on? Loss of utilities, transportation & communications can still cause a major disruption to your operations.

Nations and companies should have proactive ways of translating and distributing information to all. How to measure the associated level of risk can be difficult, a Recent CISCO report shows that Thailand may be lagging in cyber security. This study found 29% of respondents in Thailand experienced a downtime of 24 hours or more, compared with just 4% globally and 23% in Asia-Pacific. It showed 45% of respondents in Thailand reported receiving more than 50,000 threat alerts a day, with only  23%  globally.  Kerry  Singleton, 

director of cyber security in ASEAN for Cisco, said that 23% of respondents in APAC faced cyber security breaches costing over $2.5 million, compared with 15% globally.

Language barriers work both ways, it’s not only the defensive side of the equation that struggles. Western cyber security researchers and threat hunters are struggling to keep up with the growing cybercrime industry emerging in APAC. It is no longer enough to monitor cybercrime activities typically associated with Russian, North Korean or other English-speaking cyber groups. Language barriers, cultural differences and government-imposed access restrictions make it incredibly difficult for threat hunters to access and blend in with Asian underground communities to effectively perform threat reconnaissance. Researchers need to navigate linguistic and cultural differences to be effective in combating the growing cybercrime industry.

It is a difficult task to research and monitor the dark web landscape, government laws and attitudes towards cyber activity, and key threat actors, especially in a foreign language. 

Studies show Chinese Internet forums are used by hackers who are not even using openly accessible anonymous networks, mainly due to increasing restrictions on the use of TOR and VPN services in China. This has created an interesting dynamic between the Chinese government and its cyber citizens, leading to several additional challenges threat hunters must work around.

Russian forums rarely publish data dumps from Russian firms. By contrast, data dumps and malware sourced from Chinese firms are usually only found on Chinese forums. Chinese nationals are internationalists, often active on Chinese, English and Russian forums. In contrast, few native Russian or English speakers would use Chinese forums. The increasing restrictions in China are pushing Chinese hackers to use foreign forums. The result is data and malware, once unique to Chinese forums, becoming more accessible internationally. This trend has the potential to increase in spread and become a cyber threat that is bolstered by language barriers.

Please download Intuition Perspective App from app store

Contact us to learn more